Are we going to let our generation become the ones who forgot the Holocaust?

Are we going to let our generation become the ones who forgot the Holocaust?
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Today, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) released a study on Holocaust Awareness in the United States. The results are alarming.

"Never Forget” has been our mantra; documenting the horrors of the Holocaust, including through survivor accounts, and passing them to the next generation. Yet, distressingly, it seems Americans are forgetting one of the most heinous atrocities ever committed — the systematic mass murder of six million Jews, as well as members of certain other persecuted groups.

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This lack of Holocaust knowledge is taking place while survivors are still alive, many of whom offer testimony about the unimaginable terrors they were forced to endure, in part, in an effort to prevent the recurrence of such a profound catastrophe. However, soon there will no longer be any survivors to provide first-hand accounts. We record the stories of those who endured the most depraved of conditions, but is anyone listening?

 

One of the most troubling findings is that almost one-third of all respondents and over 40 percent of Millennials, indicated that nowhere near 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, with both groups saying that 2 million or fewer were killed. How can so many of us be so ignorant of one of the most basic facts about the Holocaust? While we exclaim, “we must remember the 6 million” they are being forgotten.

I’ve heard people say that knowing that millions were murdered is enough, but in whose world is it acceptable for the next generation to believe that 2 million or fewer were murdered in the Holocaust, rather than 6 million?

That failure to comprehend the extent of the havoc wreaked means that those additional millions of individuals were not only literally murdered, they also are being erased from our collective memories. Entire families and communities throughout Europe were driven out of their homes, abused, and cruelly delivered to their deaths.

Over 1.5 million of them were children that were systematically annihilated. Afterward, the Nazis and their collaborators sought to expunge evidence of what was done. But now it’s good enough that people say a few, maybe two, million were murdered? Is that the new normal?

Additionally, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there were over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust. Shockingly, almost half of the Americans questioned (45 percent) could not name a single one. Among Millennials, the percentage is even higher.

It gets worse. Only 23 percent of Americans identified Auschwitz as an extermination camp, while 41 percent could not identify Auschwitz at all. How is this possible when the corpses of 10,000 individuals per day were reduced to ashes in Auschwitz crematoria?

Further, at the very moment the Polish government works to rewrite and distort history to eradicate any repetitional blemish, most respondents in the study were painfully unaware that so many victims and entire communities were destroyed in Poland. In fact, many sites of extermination, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Belzec and Majdanek, were situated on Polish soil; and nearly 3.5 million Polish Jews — almost 10 percent of the entire Polish population — were murdered.

Finally, in civic life today in America, there are very few topics about which there is a consensus. Yet, the importance of Holocaust education appears to be one such issue. A staggering 93 percent of respondents felt that the Holocaust should be taught in schools. However, only nine states mandate Holocaust education and, even then, it must be funded.

Thus, today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is vital that each and every one of us take time to remember the 6 million whose lives were stolen. Simultaneously, we must commit ourselves to making Holocaust education mandatory throughout the country.

Those who were murdered in the 40,000 camps, ghettos, killing fields and mass graves deserve to be remembered. And preserving their memories is not only important in and of itself, it goes a long way to ensuring a better future for our children. It truly is up to us.

Greg Schneider is the executive vice president of the conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.